Theatre Review: Terminus


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When I was a teenager in university, I had a beloved friend and mentor twice my age with whom I attended much theatre and film and many art galleries. She used to often walk out, turn to me and declare, “Sure, it’s filthy. But is it art?” We always howled at this inspired witticism together. So much artistic achievement through history is crude and violent; but then, not everything that challenges our values, taste and sense of decorum is necessarily great art, is it?

God bless David Mirvish, who has created a new series of theatrical offerings dubbed Off-Mirvish. Terminus is the first of which I fervently pray will be one of dozens of such Mirvish presentations. It was a huge, sold-out hit at last spring’s SummerWorks Festival and it just opened at the still-gorgeous, century-old Royal Alexandra Theatre. It is obscene, passionate and uncomfortable to experience, but it would be a crime to not review it and share with my readers what a memorable 90-minute evening of fascinating live theatre it is.

While Terminus — written by an Irishman named Mark O’Rowe, and which first played at the great Abbey Theatre of Dublin in 2007 — is profoundly original, it is also profoundly ancient: like the plays of ancient Greece, written nearly 2,500 years ago, Terminus is written in rhyming couplets, filled with gods and devils and an obsession with violence and death. It is utterly different than any play I have seen in my half-century-plus years of theatre-going.

During its perfectly-performed, magnificently-directed production (the director is the young Mitchell Cushman, son of the superb theatre critic Robert Cushman of the National Post), I sat upon a chair on the crowded stage (really) of Toronto’s Royal Alex, and wondered to myself, “Will this extraordinary Irish play be looked back on, in a century, as I am now feeling tonight? Will it still be emotionally shattering, as so many ancient Greek plays continue to be?”

I lack the space here to rave about the unique experience of watching and listening to O’Rowe’s fascinating, rap-like rhymes; his endless descriptions of rape, cruelty, viciousness, worm-filled demons, abortions, eyes-dug-out-of-sockets, selling souls to the devil, blood and gore and even murders. There were also the three magnificent, Oscar-level performances of characters with the universal names of A, B and C (Maev Beaty, Ava Jane Markus and Adam Kenneth Wilson), all of them supremely gifted, all spouting endless rhymes alone on the lip of the Royal Alex stage, with nearly 1,500 empty, bright-red seats staring at us behind their lengthy soliloquies. I have always found rap music to be stupid, repetitive, boring and unmusical, but Terminus, with its clever, inspired rhymes (dude/exuding, slo-mo/ebb-and-flow, medicine/jettison and a thousand more), threw me back to the rhyming couplets of ancient Greek theatre and even Shakespearean times.

Is this an enjoyable evening of theatre? I can’t honestly write that. But then, the original purpose of theatre was religious; to move its audience to pity and fear. Terminus certainly achieved that on many occasions. If you have a passion for art that challenges you about the “big subjects” (God, the devil, death, evil, sex, cruelty and more), I urge you to see Terminus at the Royal Alex.

To paraphrase the best friend of my youth, now in her grave: “Sure, Terminus is often obscene and frightening, but, yes, it is art.”

Terminus, Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W., 416-872-1212. Now - Dec. 16

Allan Gould is Post City Magazines’ theatre critic. He has a PhD in English and Theatre from York University and has written over 40 books. His writing has appeared in Toronto Life, Chatelaine, enRoute, Canadian Business, Good Times and the Financial Post. He is married, with two children. Aside from his family, his major passions are theatre and film, because they enrich life with pleasure and meaning.

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